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Sacramento Sues Homeless People For ‘Public Nuisance,’ Civil Rights Advocates Call Lawsuit 'Scary'

Capital Public Radio file
The Broadway SacRT light rail station

In a move blasted by civil rights and homeless advocacy groups, the city of Sacramento has filed a lawsuit against seven homeless people accused of property and drug crimes.

The city says the group is causing a public nuisance along the Broadway business district, and is asking a court to ban them from a large swath of the city. 

Joan Borucki, executive director of the Greater Broadway District, says workers with her business group are constantly dealing with “the aftermath of drug activity” sparked by homeless individuals. 

“This includes dealing with the human waste, needle pick up, theft, car break-ins and vandalism on a daily basis,” a statement by Borucki in the civil suit reads. “I have recently seen an  increase in employees that are threatened with harm by people who are under the influence of drugs.” 

Civil rights and homelessness advocates said on Friday they’ve never seen this type of legal action taken by a city.  

“It’s a real attack on civil rights,” said Mark Merin, a Sacramento attorney. “It’s an indication of a new tactic that’s extremely dangerous. It’s scary.” 

He and others described the lawsuit as a dangerous precedent because it asks a court to criminalize homelessness and force homeless people out of a geographic area. 

They added that, because it’s a civil case, the defendants won’t receive a court-appointed defense attorney and likely won’t be able to afford representation. 

“It’s absolutely very concerning for us,” said Annie Leomporra, an analyst with the National Coalition for the Homeless. “Banning people from a jurisdiction is very unprecedented.” 

She said that, were it any other group, there would be a national outcry. “You are literally banning people from a part of the city where they live and that is absolutely terrifying, because this will set a very terrifying precedent that could have a ripple effect across the country.” 

A spokeswoman for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in an email that his office was not aware of the lawsuit. “But we are aware of many, many complaints from people in the Broadway corridor about the listed individuals doing things such as assault, drug dealing, robbery and masturbating in public,” the statement read.

In a statement, Sacramento City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said while the city would not always take legal action in these cases, it would when it the problems were "excessive" and only with the support of the neighborhood.

"In this case, the residents and businesses along the Broadway corridor have been subjected to ongoing criminal activity from a relatively small group of people," the statement reads. "The suit looks to address that issue head-on and protect the safety of everyone who lives in or visits the area."

Sacramento’s homeless population spiked 19 percent, to nearly 5,600, compared with two years ago, according to a survey conducted in January. 

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio